Donald Trump is a rapist. (Trigger warning: link contains detailed account of an alleged sexual assault committed by Donald Trump.) That’s the worst true thing that I can say about him. But he’s also a schoolyard bully, a silver-spoon rentier, and a monstrous reality-show carnival barker who has been enthusiastically embraced by more than 1/3 of our country’s conservative voter base with the ugliest kind of hateful nativism. He is a man devoid of conviction, compunction, or scruple.
And we’re still talking about him, for some reason.
Here’s all you really need to know about Trump’s immigration plan: Ann Coulter believes it to be the “greatest political document since the Magna Carta.” Elsewise in the actual world, however, the rhetoric of the phenomenon behind it has been condemned by religious leaders, other Republican candidates, lefty Democrats, right-wing talk show hosts, Republican strategist Karl Rove, basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, conservative stalwart George F. Will, mainstream Republicans, corporate Democrats, and thinking people around the globe. The #TrumpEffect is real, and it has already had brutal consequences for actual people.
Most of the coverage of Trump’s proposal has focused on its most immediately controversial tentpoles: mass deportation of the undocumented, an end to birthright citizenship, and a super-classy wall on the Mexican border. We’ll get to those, but I’m going to run these down in the least Trump-like way possible: working my way up from the bottom.
“Immigration Moderation”–or Immigration Abrogation?
Before any new green cards are issued to foreign workers abroad, there will be a pause where employers will have to hire from the domestic pool of unemployed immigrant and native workers.
I’m not going to pretend to understand exactly what he’s on about, or what this would actually mean in practice–and there’s no reason to believe the candidate does either.
But read literally, Trump has saved possibly his most economically disastrous proposal for last: an apparent total moratorium on employment-based immigration. (This is not to be confused with employment-based temporary non-immigrant visas, which I assume from context here would continue.)
Read literally, a “pause” in employment-based immigration would (among many other things) kneecap Silicon Valley, discourage foreign students from enrolling in our universities, dramatically stem the flow of “extraordinary ability” self-petitioning immigrants, and have massive global ripple effects for our country’s international reputation and economic future.
This plank in Trump’s immigration platform becomes even more warped when you try to square it against his stated goal of making sure that foreign graduates of American universities aren’t “thrown out” and have a chance to remain here and contribute. Read literally, his plan to “pause” all employment based immigration would effectively end the hopes of any foreign student hoping to immigrate through employment, let alone to start her own business and hire American workers. (Remember that anyone on a student visa is considered a “non-immigrant,” and would presumably not be counted among the “unemployed immigrant” pool mentioned above.)
It’s almost as if Trump is making this up as he goes along.
Closing the “golden door” and ending “expensive refugee programs”
Trump’s war on refugees and asylum seekers is the lowest kind of nativist dog-whistle pandering.
The United States takes in more refugees and asylees than any other developed nation, and we could easily afford to accept many more. Our refugee programs are an appropriate tribute to our long history as a haven for religious, social, and political freedom, and a model for the world. And in terms of the larger federal budget, they cost us virtually nothing.
It’s also worth remembering that the majority of the people who arrive each year in the U.S. fleeing violence and persecution are coming from places–including Iraq, Afghanistan, and Central America (and Vietnam and Cambodia before them)–which were left significantly worse off through our diplomatic, military, and economic intervention. Any reasonable person who understands both recent world history and the Pottery Barn rule should recognize that we bear a direct moral responsibility for their well-being.
And we can more than afford it.
Refugee programs are administered through a remarkable public-private partnership between the federal government and a number of “voluntary agencies” (VOLAGs)–most, but not all, of which are religious charities. The entire budget for this program adds up to less than $1 billion each year, which is in and of itself only 1/6 of the less than 1% of the federal spending on overall foreign aid. The costs of travel, resettlement, job counseling, housing, and everything else required to relocate a family from a refugee camp abroad are covered by the VOLAGs, and the travel costs are actually arranged through an interest-free loan which the refugee must repay within six months of arrival.
For perspective, Congress has continued to push through the $1 trillion F-35 fighter jet program despite the Pentagon and Senate Armed Services Committee chair John McCain sensibly pointing out that it is a massive boondoggle for defense contractors and “an incredible waste of the taxpayers’ dollar.” Again, that’s the difference between less than $1 billion for some of the world’s most compelling humanitarian causes vs. $1 trillion for a plane that we don’t actually need.
None of this is to say that we couldn’t actually create and fund the gimmicky “refugee program for American children” that Trump proposes. (N.B.: while I completely support spending whatever it takes to get inner-city kids out of crime and poverty, calling them “refugees” is both legally inaccurate and a semantic disservice to actual refugees.) But presenting it as a zero-sum game in which foreign refugees fleeing persecution and torture are somehow taking resources from vulnerable American kids is cheap, cynical, and patently un-American.
It’s almost as if Trump doesn’t understand the first thing about the federal budget.
Ending the J-1 student exchange program (for some reason)
Trump’s proposal would terminate the J-1, a special non-immigrant visa for foreign exchange students and certain other seasonal workers. This is the first time that I’d seen anyone anywhere publicly suggest this, probably because the J-1 is a totally innocuous program which costs the U.S. virtually nothing and is a critical tool in our diplomatic and foreign relations. It’s a totally uncalled-for solution to a totally non-existent problem.
It’s almost as if Trump has no sense of perspective as to the actual problems in our broken immigration system.
As written, Trump’s actual immigration plan does not include reference to his proposal to strictly enforce immigration law against every undocumented human being in the United States–but all you have to do is ask him, as Stephen Colbert did as recently as last night.
In calling for the removal of the entire undocumented population and their U.S. citizen children, Trump is swinging for the extreme nativist fences. Americans have consistently expressed significant majority support for a reasonable path to citizenship for the undocumented, and mass deportation would be an unprecedented (and self-inflicted) economic, fiscal, social, and humanitarian disaster, a monumental own goal for the ages.
Trump has repeatedly explained that he would allow “the good people” to “come back” after they were deported, presumably through some kind of merits-based application system. (Or… not! It’s actually possible from the way that he talks about it that, like most of America, he believes that we already have such a system.) This is absolute unmitigated nonsense, obviously: why waste the enormous expenditure of time and money in the single greatest deportation effort in human history rather than sorting out “the good people” before tearing them away from their families and communities? Isn’t it “amnesty” whether you’re changing the rules for them while they’re here or while they’re abroad?
It’s almost as if Trump hasn’t ever stopped to think about the words that are coming out of his mouth.
Doubling down on “the wall”–and the fear
We already have a wall. We’ve already paid for it. And whether it’s actually working or not (an open question), we do know that Mexican migration is at a net negative (with more Mexican nationals leaving the US than entering) for the first time since the ’70s, enforcement has skyrocketed, and Border Patrol’s budget [PDF] has nearly doubled under the Obama administration. We now spend far more on immigration enforcement than all other federal law enforcement (including actual anti-terrorism efforts) combined.
But none of this tough talk is about building an actual wall. It’s about building hate, fear, and distrust of people who don’t like or sound like “us.” Trump is playing on the worst assumptions of heartland Americans who have never actually met or spoken with a Latino immigrant. He won’t tell you that recent immigrants are far healthier, work much harder, are learning English faster than previous generations, and commit crimes at drastically lower rates than those of us who had the good sense to be born here. He won’t tell you about the actual lives and families involved, the shameful American trade and foreign policy choices which destroyed most of Central America, or the inevitable unintended consequences of effectively ending all legal Mexican migration (including millions of seasonal workers) with the Immigration and National Act of 1965.
It’s almost as if Donald Trump is a hatemongering baboon who should never come anywhere near any political office.